BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali's prime minister had reversed a decision to grant an exploration permit previously held by Canadian miner B2Gold to a little-known Malian company before he was arrested in a military takeover on Monday, a decree showed.
The West African country's interim president and prime minister resigned on Wednesday after their arrest, deepening a political crisis and drawing condemnation from international powers.
The prime minister's decision, if it is upheld, could give B2Gold another opportunity to renew the permit, avoiding a potential clash with government at a time of heightened political risk in the country.
In the decree, dated May 21, the now-ousted Prime Minister Moctar Ouane ordered the cancellation of a March 24 decision to give the Menankoto exploration permit to Malian company Little Big Mining SARL, without detailing the reasons behind the annulment.
It was not immediately clear how Monday's military takeover or the official resignations would affect the decision to deny Little Big Mining the permit.
The government had previously denied B2Gold's application for an extension of the Menankoto exploration permit it had obtained through a 2014 acquisition. B2Gold contested the decision.
B2Gold said on March 29 that its Malian subsidiary, Menankoto SARL, applied for a one-year renewal of the permit in early February, and was advised in early March that the new permit would not be granted to it.
"The Company believes that the grant of the exploration permit covering the perimeter of the Menankoto Permit to a third party is contrary to Menankoto's legal rights under both the 2012 Malian Mining Code and the 2019 Malian Mining Code," B2Gold said in a statement at the time.
The Menankoto permit covers an area located 20 km north of B2Gold's Fekola mine, which is in southwest Mali on the border with Senegal.
Fekola, in which the Malian government owns a 20% stake, accounted for 27% of Mali's industrial gold production last year. B2Gold expects the mine to produce 530,000 to 560,000 ounces of gold in 2021.
The Fekola mine operations are unaffected by the political upheaval, B2Gold said on Tuesday.
B2Gold's country manager Mohamed Diarra resigned last week, a source with direct knowledge told Reuters.
(Reporting by Jeff Lewis in Toronto, David Lewis in Nairobi, Tiemoko Diallo in Bamako, and Helen Reid in Johannesburg; Editing by Aurora Ellis)